Gettysburg’s St. James Lutheran Church, 109 York St., is supporting a Rwandan church in its efforts to construct a building within a country that is likewise rebuilding, following a catastrophic ethnic war.
The St. James Mission Fund—a monetary stream that enables St. James to fulfill its mission of helping others beyond the church’s budgeted and planned donations—is donating $3,200 to aid the purchase of land and building of a Lutheran church in Masaka, Rwanda, which is identified as a growing region.
This is the 10th year of St. James’ mission fund gifts. Recipients are announced following a lengthy process that begins with ideas and proposals from church members. But this year’s gift process stemmed from a chance encounter thousands of miles from Gettysburg that many say was the work of God.
David Flesner, chair of St. James’ Mission Fund Committee, struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler sitting next to him in the Amsterdam airport.
“He was a Lutheran pastor in Rwanda and during our conversation he explained that his congregation is trying to construct a church. He was very enthusiastic in a sincere way, and we stayed in touch via email afterward. It was a chance meeting, but I believe throughout the course of events, we see the hand of God in action,” said Flesner.
Flesner asked Claire Anderson of St. James’ World Outreach Committee to research the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Global Missions in Rwanda and to reach out to the Rwandan pastor, Edward Makara. And Anderson found an unlikely connection right in Central Pennsylvania: She discovered that Pastor Kate Warn of Zion Lutheran Church, Manheim, Lancaster County, had worked with Makara during an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) mission trip, 2014-17.
Warn spent time in Rwanda following the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A million people were killed by Hutu extremists targeting the Tutsi minority and Hutu moderates, during a 100-day period.
“There is much we can learn from the Lutheran Church in Rwanda about reconciliation, and much they can learn from us—about what it means to be the body of Christ supporting our brothers and sisters,” Warn said.
“Christians in Rwanda are wrestling with what forgiveness looks like and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The message of Christ resonates because it brings hope and joy to people’s lives,” Warn added.
Warn says she first met Makara when he was a seminary student.
“He sets a great example because he wants to make a difference for his country, and be part of his country that is forward-looking to the future,” Warn said.
At the recent Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly held at Messiah College, it was revealed that the fastest-growing region of Christianity in the world is currently taking place in Africa.
“I believe it’s because they are not as constrained by orthodox and structure as we are in the U.S.,” said Rev. Michael Allwein, senior pastor at St. James. “It’s something we struggle with in this country, but it’s the opposite in Africa.”
Donations to the mission fund are provided by the generosity of church members’ estates and wills. The committee allocates those donations annually to local and/or world-wide nonprofit agencies.
Last year, donations were given to the Safina Street Network in Tanzania as well as St. James nursery attendants. In 2017, a combined total of $15,700 was gifted to John’s Meals, Warrior Canine Connections, the Wittel Farm Growing Project, Lutheran World Relief’s Haiti Appeal, the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission, and the ELCA’s World Hunger Campaign.
“Large, impactful, one-time donations are favored by the committee rather than on-going annual support, which St. James does through its other benevolence programs,” said Flesner.
Substantial local gifts in the past included $15,000 to Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S; $11,500 for the construction of the Adams Rescue Mission Apartments, and $10,000 to Shining Stars Therapeutic Ministries. Globally, past gifts included $10,000 to Alternative Strategies for Agriculture in Rural Nicaragua; $10,000 to Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital; and $8,000 to the ELCA’s Japanese Disaster Response Fund following a deadly earthquake and tsunami.
The 2019 gift to the Lutheran Church of Masaka, Rwanda marks the 40th organization receiving financial aid from St. James’ Mission Fund.